Another dot in the blogosphere?

Bad “digital” distinctions

Posted on: May 13, 2017

Is there anything worse than Prensky’s false digital natives/immigrants dichotomy? (It is terrible and here is one good critique out of many.)

For over a decade, my answer was no. This year, someone decided to create a “trichotomy” of digital orphans, exiles, and heirs.

The newer distinctions suffer from the same core problem as the previous one: That you are born into the circumstances, and once there, you do not and cannot change.

The trichotomy is even worse in that while Prensky tried to cite a bit of research, the newer scheme is an opinion piece fuelled solely by anecdotal rhetoric.

The best theoretical model with practical realities is probably David White’s visitors and residents. This model is contextual and personal. Each person can be one or both depending on the circumstance.

For example, you can be a Facebook resident and a Snapchat visitor. Both involve forms of social media, but the labels of visitor or resident are not all-or-none. If you abandon Facebook and embrace Snapchat for personal or professional reasons, you might then become a Facebook visitor and a Snapchat resident. Who you are and what you do are not fixed.

So what if there are harmful or helpful models? Are these not just theoretical?

It is important to think critically about these models because they attempt to summarise and describe reality. If we do not point out falsehoods or chip away at inaccuracies, we misrepresent ourselves.

Words become actions. The Prensky dichotomy and the newer trichotomy can be used to craft speeches, shape policies, and dictate budgets. 

These weaker models are easy to digest because they might seem anecdotally close to experience. But anecdotes are not necessarily data and they certainly are not evidence until there are systematic and rigorous ways to collect and analyse them.

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